RPI ties up Nanooks at Alaska Goal Rush

The Engineers hit to the skies this past weekend in a two-game road trip to the Land of the Midnight Sun to face the University of Alaska-Anchorage and the University of Alaska in the Brice Alaska Goal Rush in Fairbanks on Friday and Saturday. Despite losing to the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves on Friday by a score of 3-0, Rensselaer bounced back to tie the No. 17 Alaska Nanooks 1-1 late Saturday evening. Rensselaer is now 1-2-1 on the season, while UAA improves to 2-1-0, and Alaska is an undefeated 3-0-1.

It was a slightly longer road trip than usual for the Engineers, who left Troy on Tuesday for Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey for an early Wednesday morning flight to Seattle, Wash., before heading to Alaska with flights to Anchorage, and finally, Fairbanks. RPI was one of four teams in the tournament, which included the two Alaskan foes it faced, as well as CHA member Robert Morris University. With Saturday’s tie and the resulting shootout decision to find a winner, Alaska was named tournament champion.

UAA took game one of the tournament as the Seawolves netted two first period goals and an insurance marker in the second to shutout the Engineers by a score of 3-0. “It was a very long flight, but that is no excuse,” said freshman forward Brandon Pirri of the loss. “We did not play the way we need to in order to be successful in this league.”

The game’s first tally came just under three minutes into the period. Alex Gellert netted his first collegiate goal off a battle in front of Rensselaer sophomore goaltender Allen York with assists from Mickey Spencer and Kane Lafranchise to take the early lead. With five minutes remaining in the frame, the Seawolves increased the deficit to two with a goal off another rebound in front of the net, with the mark this time going to Josh Lunden.

Both teams skated through an even second period, with each squad getting their fair share of scoring opportunities. UAA goaltender Jon Olthuis stopped a Rensselaer shot midway through the frame, keeping the score at 2-0. With 2:29 left in the period, Seawolves right winger Kevin Clark netted a highlight-reel worthy tally. Clark had his initial shot blocked by York, but though he was tripped up by one of RPI’s defensemen, he was able to get a stick on the puck and ripped the rebound past an unsuspecting York to increase the deficit to three.

With several turnovers in the Seawolves zone throughout the game working in RPI’s favor, the Engineers were determined to get on the board in the third. Freshman Marty O’Grady had the best chance of the afternoon as his shot went into UAA’s net, but it was disallowed by the referee, ending the game at 3-0.

York stopped 24 of 28 shots faced, while Olthuis made 25 saves in the win, his second of the season.

“We lost simply because the other team’s will to win was much greater than ours,” said senior wing Garett Vassel, whose line was touted by Head Coach Seth Appert as one of the best performing groups for RPI in the game. “We lacked intensity, and it was embarrassing all over the ice, at every position, throughout every class.”

With jetlag wearing off from long travels, Rensselaer came back against a nationally-ranked Alaska team. The Engineers held the lead for the majority of the game with Pirri’s first collegiate goal, but the Nanooks came back to tie the game with minutes remaining in the third.

After a scoreless first period, Pirri lit the lamp midway through the second. At 9:13, he buried a rebound just outside of the crease past sophomore goaltender Scott Greenham for the 1-0 lead. O’Grady and junior defenseman Bryan Brutlag earned the assists on the play. “The [goal] was a result of hard work by the entire line,” explained Pirri of his goal. “[O’Grady] worked the puck down low, then drew the defender and passed it to Brutlag at the point, where he threw it on net and I was just in the right place at the right time. And I put away the trash.”

RPI controlled the opening 40 minutes of play, outshooting the Nanooks 17-13, but had to step up its game as Alaska was not ready to give up easily.

With just 1:36 left in regulation, Alaska converted on the man-advantage to even the score at one. At the left point, sophomore Joe Sova blasted a shot through a screen and past York’s glove for the equalizer.

“It was very bittersweet, we played really well and for them to get a late goal to tie it up was frustrating,” said Pirri. “But it was great to see the guys bunch back with a very solid effort after Friday night’s loss.”

Both teams skated through a scoreless overtime period, prompting a shootout to determine a tournament winner, as each team held a 1-1 record in the event. Alaska took home championship honors by taking the shootout, 1-0.

“The way I see it, we undoubtedly should have come away with the win,” explained Vassel. “We took a penalty late in the game, and then evened up on a penalty that was called against them in our favor. They capitalized on our lack of discipline.”

Earning All-Tournament team honors, York made 33 saves, 20 of which came in the final frame. Greenham finished with 23 stops in the tie. “York played absolutely fantastic, all of the credit in the world to him, he deserved more from us, especially at the end,” praised Vassel of the young goaltender.

Rensselaer continues with non-conference action this weekend in preparation of upcoming ECAC matches at the start of November. Over Family Weekend, the Engineers host the Sacred Heart University Pioneers on Friday, followesd by a match against the American International College Yellow Jackets on Saturday. Puck drop for both games is at 7 pm. “These are must-win games for us, obviously,” noted Vassel. “We have to go into both games with perfect preparation. We cannot take either team lightly.” He continued, adding that although both AIC and Sacred Heart are good teams, “We are better, as long as we bring it in the intensity column.”